Liz Montgomery founded SIDS group
After Northwest Infant Survival and SIDS Alliance (NISSA) decided to withdraw funding from their Eastern Washington office in 2011, Liz Montgomery, executive director, founded the Inland Northwest SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) Foundation, based in Coeur d'Alene in 2012.
NISSA reached out to her when her son, Mason, succumbed to sudden unexpected infant death (SUID) in 2002. She became a volunteer.
"Safe sleep guidelines didn't come out until 2012," she said. "I knew something that could save the life of someone else. Why wouldn't I spread that message to others to spare them the heartache I live with? These babies deserve to live. Their parents deserve to know the information."
Now, eight years later, the Inland Northwest SIDS Foundation (INWSIDS) has come under the NISSA umbrella once again. Liz is the executive director of this expanded organization. On Jan. 1, 2020, this merger created a single nonprofit organization in the Northwest focused on eliminating infant and child mortality.
• One of its programs, Healing Together, offers support for grieving people affected by a pregnancy, infant or child loss. The bereaved can access a 24-hour support line or join in monthly peer-to-peer support groups. They hold memorial events and provide phone, email and in-person support, referrals to professional counseling and emotional support packets.
• The Share Hope Memorial Garden also is available to the bereaved. The 24-hour support line is 206-548-9290.
• Safe Start offers education about infant and child health and safety.
• Their Safe Sleep for Northwest Babies program provides families in need with life-saving education, along with the necessary tools to keep their babies safe during sleep.
• In 2019, they offered 129 classes in Washington, Idaho and Montana. When needed, they provide cribs and sleep sacks.
• In addition, they offer training targeted to nurses, doctors and first responders. In 2019, 254 individuals received the first-responder training.
• NISSA Safe Start has a North Idaho Child Passenger Safety Team focusing on car seat safety education for parents and professionals.
"We want to make sure every parent has the knowledge and skills to keep their child safe during every ride," she said. "Our Safe Seat program allows us to provide car seats free of charge to children in need."
In 2019, they did 258 car seat checks, distributed 134 safe car seats and trained 89 professionals.
Eastern Washington has the state's highest SUID rate, she said. Health District 1 in Idaho, which includes the five northern counties, has the second highest SUID rate in Idaho, following Health District 2, which includes Lewiston.
Ninety percent of these deaths are caused by unsafe sleep environments, she explained. The use of pillows and blankets, tummy sleeping and bed sharing all contribute. Even twins need to have their individual beds, because they may roll on top of each other.
These deaths are preventable when babies do not sleep in bed with their parents or on a couch. When they use sleep sacks rather than blankets, they avoid suffocation, strangulation and overheating. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants use wearable blankets or sleep sacks all the way through their first birthday.
Safe Start has a safe sleep class on Zoom, which is at safestartnw.org.
With COVID-19, child passenger safety and safe sleep classes are being held only on Zoom. INWSIDS is offering online classes for parents, caregivers, grandparents and babysitters. All in-person classes and car seat checks have been canceled through the end of 2020, when there will be re-evaluation on safety.
"Families who complete our Safe Sleep 101 class are mailed a sleep sack and safe sleep materials," she said.
"When INWSIDS began its prevention education work in 2012," Liz said, "Idaho's five-year average SUID rate was 94 deaths per 100,000 live births. After seven years of hard work, our education is working. The five-year death rate is dropping. A baby born today in Idaho has 13 percent less chance of dying from a sleep related death than one born six years ago. That's amazing!"
The best way for Safe Start education to happen is by partnering with agencies that already serve families, said Liz.
"We train staff at the Pregnancy Crisis Center in Bonner County, as well as the Bonner County EMS and Early Head Start once a year to reach rural communities," she said.
Safe Start also works with hospitals to make sure all staff are safe sleep certified. Sacred Heart, Deaconess and Holy Family Hospitals were certified last year. Kootenai Health has received the training.
These medical centers have safe sleep policies to follow. Focus is on Eastern Washington and Pierce County, which includes Tacoma.
"Every child deserves to celebrate their first birthday and more, free from accidental death and injury," said Liz. "In our Every Child program, we partner with like-minded individuals, nonprofits, local health and safety organizations, and concerned people passionate about the well-being of children related to health and safety."
Every Child delegates traveled to Washington, D.C., in October 2019 to meet with Congress about the upcoming Scarlett's Sunshine Act, a bill to amend the Public Health Service to improve children's health and help better understand and enhance awareness about unexpected sudden death in early life. It passed the Senate in May, she said.
Through the Every Child program, October 2019 was declared "Safe Sleep Awareness Month" by governors of Idaho and Washington, and mayors of Post Falls, Coeur d'Alene, Spokane and Tacoma.
Liz said the NISSA board includes people who agree to volunteer for a minimum of 10 hours per month. Some teach safe sleep classes. Others offer office support. They help recruit donors and connect NISSA with their acquaintances. Board members come from Tacoma, Boise, Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls.
One member from Boise, paramedic Bart Buckendorf, took time off work to spend September and October 2019 walking more than 600 miles throughout Idaho. He taught 36 Safe Sleep 101 classes on his trek. He said SUID is heartbreaking. This was his way of working to eliminate it.
He ended his walk in Coeur d'Alene in October. The fire and police departments were at the celebration.
Liz grew up in St. Maries, Idaho. She attended North Idaho College and the University of Idaho, graduating in 2000 with a degree in elementary education. During her last year in college, she was required to do community engagement.
"It's part of my personality," she said. "It's who I am, and I love my community."
It has taken much time and effort to build support for her work, she said. She has only been able to work full time for the nonprofit for two and a half years.
NISSA receives no state or federal support, except for car seats. Much of the work has been done by traveling and training professionals in Idaho, Washington and part of Montana. They then go out and serve families. NISSA partners with other agencies.
Three to four times a month, they have offered classes in Coeur d'Alene. They offer classes on Zoom at multiple times a month.
"I could write a book about the serendipitous stuff that has happened," she said. "Whenever we have a need for Safe Start, it appears. Many people show support for our work. The generosity of volunteers, donors and board members has led to unbelievable growth. They are grateful for the information we offer, and respond by asking how they can help.
"Every year my job gets easier," she said. "Our fundraising and education are more established. We've come to the 'teen-age stage.' We are solidifying and fine-tuning what we're doing. We're finding ourselves, connecting dots and acting on plans. We have learned what works and are planning for the future."
For information, call 206-548-9290 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, September, 2020